Monday, March 02, 2009

Jean-Paul Cyr on 2009, ""For me it's a learning-charge-your-battery-focus-on-Thunder-Road-race-the-Baja-and-not-get-killed-type of year."

In American-Canadian Tour racing, there isn't much left for Jean-Paul Cyr to accomplish. He holds the record for all-time and consecutive ACT championships, at seven and five, respectively, ranks a close second in all-time ACT Late Model Tour race victories, has won all of the major events on the schedule at least once, and is a past recipient of the Don MacTavish Award for lifetime contributions to motorsports. Prior to that, he had been a track champion on the Devil's Bowl Speedway dirt in Fair Haven and a top independent competitior on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. And for nearly the entire first decade of the 21st century, Cyr has been the face of northeastern Late Model racing.

But when a driver achieves so much success so frequently, he or she can become... bored.
So here comes Cyr, at 44, bored and seeking new challenges. The Milton racer is stepping out of an ultra-successful ride in the Rick Paya-owned RPM Motorsports #32 car and into a new car with an unproven team. Away from the ACT Late Model Tour - at least full-time - and into the tough-as-nails weekly wars at Barre's Thunder Road. And, more often, out of the close confines of a stock car cockpit and into the open air atop a speeding motorcycle.

Cyr has formed a new team with Joey and Jeff Laquerre to run for the 2009 Thunder Road Late Model championship. Joey Laquerre, who posted his first Thunder Road win as a car owner in 1968 and his most recent win as a driver some 40 years later, will field a new Race Basics-built car for Cyr at the Quarry Hill oval. His son, Jeff, will attempt to add to his impressive résumé as a championship-caliber crew chief, and will oversee the operation. Both Cyr and Jeff Laquerre have brought crew members to the fold, aiming for the "King of the Road" crown in the track's 50th season.

Said Cyr simply, "The number-one goal is to create a very stout team that can be a threat week-in and week-out, and the number-two goal would be the Thunder Road title." He did offer that the new team plans to compete in selected ACT events, although its touring schedule has not been finalized.

But there's more. As mentioned, Cyr will return to the roots he planted in his teenage years on the seat of a motorcycle. He has recently returned from the Mexican desert, having enlisted the help of Baja racing legends Johnny Campbell and Tim Morton, and is in the process of training for the Baja 500.

"I grew up racing motocross and hair scrambles," said Cyr. "In my late teens I raced the Florida winter series for a couple of years. Before I raced cars, that's what I did. I kind of became burned out on them, but around that time when I was younger the Baja had always intrigued me so it had always been kind of one of those personal goals to get out there. My father had gone out to Baja and did some trail riding a few times, and he'd come back telling stories."

Cyr began dabbling in the desert a couple of years ago, and the itch came back.

"I happened to meet the right people out there that were involved in racing the Baja 500 and 1000, and I made all the right connections," he said. "Now the opportunity has become very real. On June 6, I race the Baja 500, and I'm going to race that solo. To race at Baja and race cars, it's two different things, but I have to focus on both aspects. To race every weekend with the (ACT) Tour would interfere too much with my ambitions with the Baja. We're talking right now about forming a team for the 1000 (in November), myself and another rider, through Baja Bound (a ride/race program operated by Morton). So Thursday nights (at Thunder Road) really fit in really well for this year, where it wasn't going to take up a lot of my time and cut into too much of my training."

But back to four wheels, Cyr's touring experiences had begun to stagnate over the last couple of seasons. Until last year, he had never seriously been challenged for the ACT championship since his first of five consecutive titles in 2003. During that span, he won over 20% of the races run on the series, and had started to look in other directions, including brief stints as Race Director on Thursday nights at Thunder Road, and as the driver of Gary Casella's #25 car on the True Value Modified Racing Series. Racing full-time at Thunder Road, it seemed, was a logical change of atmosphere.

"I'm always looking for new challenges," Cyr explained. "With our recent history on the Tour, I was looking for new challenges. Thunder Road is certainly a big challenge. What intrigues me about it are the fans at Thunder Road. It's like, until you race Thunder Road weekly, I believe, you're never truly accepted by the fans there, and I love the fans there and I'd like to be more of a part of that before I move on to different venues. I can see myself running the Tour next year, (but) I needed an escape."

And then Cyr said something completely unexpected: "You set goals, and I've never truly achieved any goal that I've ever set, believe it or not."

How could this be possible for a man who has won more than anyone else in the last half-dozen years, for a man who has won championships on two wheels and four, on dirt and asphalt, and has competed successfully virtually everywhere?

"I tend to set fairly high goals, and I believe your goals should be high enough where you don't achieve them," he said. "What do you do after you achieve a goal? The project is done. So if you want to continue on with anything in life, anything that you love, I believe you always set your true ambition just above your likelyhood or ability. That way you can carry through, that's how you can win more than one championship, that's how you keep going. The novelty (of winning ACT races and titles) had worn off, and it was just time for something different, something to inject a little bit more excitement into my life. That's how the Modified happened, I was looking to make my job harder. And I did, just seeking satisfaction. It's kind of complicated, but it's not. Just looking to mix things up, add a little bit of excitement, create desire once again. I like an electric atmosphere, I like for things to be not so much black-and-white but a little bit more adventurous. That's all I was seeking, and once you start doing different things it opens up different opportunities."

So how long is Jean-Paul Cyr going to be seeking adventure at Thunder Road or in the desert? Are his days of ACT dominance over?

"Would I like to win eight ACT championships? Sure, but it's not going to be this year," he said with a laugh. "For me it's a learning-charge-your-battery-focus-on-Thunder-Road-race-the-Baja-and-not-get-killed-type of year."

Baja Racing